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Sourdough Bread: Isolationist Baking in the Covid 19 Era


Strange times, strange world. It’s 1 April  2020 and definitely not April Fools’ Day. Life is too serious for jokes. But one good thing is happening, people all over the world are enjoying cooking at home, and “from scratch”.

There is a renewed interest in baking your own bread. That’s great! Bread making is a wonderful skill, so satisfying and therapeutic. You can practise mindfulness when kneading a loaf!

But yeast is in short supply (unavailable for me currently), as would be bakers raid the stores to get supplies for making bread.

The good news is you can make brilliant bread without commercial yeast, if you embrace sourdough, the ancient and enduring method of turning flour and water into a risen loaf.

So I thought I would put my sourdough recipes into one post, or at least the links to the posts. I have been refining sourdough making over the last few years, and I am now confident, actually quite chuffed, with the bread I bake today.

I should mention that everything I’ve learnt about sourdough has been through the books of breadmaker James Morton: Brilliant Bread, Shetland:Cooking on the Edge of the World and his latest book Super Sourdough. The latter, in particular, is an excellent guide to sourdough bread making.

Another thing to mention is that to make sourdough bread you need a sourdough starter. But it’s not as daunting as it looks, and I give plenty of instructions in the posts.

Here are 3 links to my sourdough journey. All are good recipes and procedures to make sourdough. I think Sourdough, Ultimate Bread  is the best. It’s the most recent, and has some good tips and tricks, particularly in proving and shaping bread.

Here are the links. If you’re in home isolation and want to make bread, give sourdough a go. You won’t regret it!

1. Sourdough, Ultimate Bread: https://thequirkandthecool.com/2019/12/05/for-the-love-of-sourdough/

2. Shetlandic Sourdough: https://thequirkandthecool.com/2019/08/10/shetlandic-sourdough/

3. Simple Sourdough: https://thequirkandthecool.com/2015/08/01/simple-sourdough/

Chicken, Leek and Asparagus Oven Risotto


Here’s another recipe that’s super easy, pretty fast and will cheer you up if you’re staying at home in social isolation.

It’s quick and easy because it’s an oven baked risotto! The recipe is based on a Bill Granger recipe. Our own home grown cook and restaurateur has recipes for a couple of oven baked risottos.It makes sense to let the oven do the cooking rather than spend all that time stirring on the stove top!

You could replace the leeks or asparagus with whatever you fancy – zucchini, peas, broad beans or even tomatoes for a red hued risotto…

And have a glass or two of the riesling that you opened to put in the risotto!

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil
500g chicken breast or thighs, cut into thin strips
1 onion, finely chopped
1 leek, sliced into rounds
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
250g Arborio rice
500ml chicken stock
250ml white wine + extra if needed
1 bunch of asparagus, sliced on the diagonal
A handful of grated parmesan or pecorino cheese, plus extra to serve
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Method

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large casserole dish on the stove top over a high heat. Add the chicken pieces and cook, stirring frequently for 3-4 minutes or until golden brown. Remove and set aside.

Add the remaining olive to the pan, then the onion and leek, and cook, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes or until the onion and leek are soft. Add the lemon zest and cook, stirring for 30 seconds. Add the Arborio rice and stir to coat the grains in the oil. Add the chicken stock and white wine, and bring to the boil, stirring occasionally.

Cover the casserole and put in the oven for 20 minutes. At this point, if the risotto seems to have absorbed all the liquid, add a splash or two of white wine. Add asparagus, return the chicken to the casserole and bake for a few minutes or until the asparagus is just tender, the liquid is absorbed and the rice is cooked. Bill says to do this for 3-4 minutes, I found it took more like 10 minutes to fully cook the rice.

Stir in parmesan or pecorino and season with salt and pepper. Serve with extra cheese.

Homemade Granola with Dried Grapes and Figs



Looking back over my blog there are several posts for granola. I love eating homemade granola – you know exactly what’s in it. Important if you don’t want added sugar. The recipe, or rather procedure, is super easy and quick. I make it every few weeks. The granola keeps well too, in a jar with a good seal like a clip top jar.

So here’s the granola recipe once more. And it’s another food staple that you can rustle up if you’re staying at home in isolation.

I usually add a variety of dried fruit like sultanas and raisins and apricots. This time I added my own version of raisins, black grapes that I dried in the oven. I had some grapes that were past their best, and reluctant to throw them out, I stuck them in the oven on a baking sheet at a very low temperature. Of course ordinary raisins are just fine! I did something similar with figs too. A quick how-to for the dried grapes and figs at the end of the recipe. I also threw in some some glacé orange slices left over from Christmas. This time I didn’t add seeds, however I have included them in the ingredients.

The proportions in the granola are really up to you. The quantities here are a guide only, feel free to add more or less of something to taste. And add different cereals, fruits, nuts or seeds to taste too!

Ingredients

2 cups of rolled oats
1 cup of any cereal you have in the cupboard eg weetbix, corn or bran flakes
1/2 cup of salted nuts like macadamias, cashews, walnuts, hazelnuts
A handful of mixed seeds like pepita, linseed, sesame
1/3 cup of honey, warmed with 1 tablespoon of water to pouring consistency in a microwave
1/2 cup of any dried fruit – dried grapes, figs, sultanas, raisins, apricots, cranberries, or even glacé fruit

Method 

Pre-heat the oven to 140 degrees C. You could try 160 degrees C for a quicker toasting but be careful you don’t burn the mix. Line a large baking tin with baking paper. You need to be able to spread the mix out so that all the mix is exposed to the heat.

Mix the oats, cereal, seeds and nuts together in a large bowl. Loosen the honey before microwaving with the water to make it more runny and easier to mix. Pour the warmed honey onto the mix and quickly stir it through. The mixture will be quite sticky, so stir fairly aggressively.

Spoon the mixture onto the baking paper in the tin, spreading it out so that it covers the base of the tin and there aren’t any big lumps.

Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes or until the mixture is golden brown and thoroughly toasted. You will need to turn the mixture over half way through cooking, so that the underneath mixture gets its time on top and gets toasted. The oven time is a bit of guess work – just keep checking and remove when the mix is golden and not burnt!

Let cool for 5 minutes then add the fruit, combining everything well. Don’t worry if there are some clumpy bits stuck together with honey – they are a bonus!

Delicious with Greek yoghurt, milk or almond milk, or sprinkled over a big bowl of fresh fruit like stone fruit or berries.

Dried grapes are rather like muscatels in that they are more juicy than raisins. I guessed that drying grapes in the oven would work – and it did!

Take any black grapes you have that are just past their best. Pull individual grapes off their stalks or you can leave a few on stalks if you want. Lay the grapes on a baking sheet lined with baking paper. Put the baking sheet into the cold oven, then turn oven to 100 degrees C. Bake until the grapes have not completely dried out, but are looking more like raisins. This process should take about 4 hours, but you can decide just how dehydrated you like your grapes.

Store in an airtight jar. You can use them in granola, or as part of a snack mix, or lovely with cheese.

Dried figs are easy to do too. Again, I use figs that are past their best. Cut them in half and place the halves on the baking sheet. Drizzle just a little bit of honey over each half. Bake in the same way as the grapes.

Pumpkin Gnocchi with Brown Butter Sage and Walnuts: Isolationist Cooking

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It’s Sunday 22 March, the fourth Sunday in Lent, traditionally a time when children spend time with their mothers. This seems very apt, as many families now have to spend a lot of time together, as we go through these isolationist times.

So here’s another recipe in the series “Isolationist Cooking in the Covid 19 Era”. Last week I made pumpkin gnocchi – they were so easy – and quick to make, perfect for cooking as a family, and great to do with the kids! You can knock them up in under an hour, from preparing the pumpkin through to actually making the gnocchi dish.

Uncooked, they keep for a day or so in the fridge and freeze really well.

All the ingredients are fridge or pantry staples, except the pumpkin, and once you’ve bought some, it keeps very well in the crisper of the fridge for a couple of weeks. The aim of isolationist cooking is cooking from what’s at home, rather then running to the shops and markets for a whole list of ingredients.

Anyway, give gnocchi making a go. And once they’re made, they pair well with lots of sauces – tomato based, cream based or the one I made, brown butter sage and walnut.

Ingredients

Gnocchi

125g mashed pumpkin (about 300g uncooked)
100g ricotta
185g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
30g parmesan or pecorino cheese, finely grated
1 free-range egg
Salt
Black pepper

Brown Butter Sage and Walnuts

2 tablespoons butter
A handful of sage leaves – at least 10, more if you like sage!
A half handful of walnuts, at least 10, some pieces left whole, some roughly chopped

More parmesan or pecorino, for scattering over the gnocchi

Method

Chop the pumpkin into manageable pieces, skin on, and place in a microwaveable bowl. Microwave on high for 5 minutes or until the pumpkin is soft. Remove from the microwave, allow to cool until easy to handle, then peel. Mash with a fork until smooth.

The pumpkin has quite a lot of water, so you will need to drain it. Put the pumpkin into a strainer or colander lined with absorbent kitchen towels. After 5 minutes remove the pumpkin in the paper towels and squeeze out any excess water.

Put the pumpkin and all the rest of the gnocchi ingredients in a bowl. Mix well with a spoon to a firm paste.

Dust a large wooden board or the bench top with flour. Put the pumpkin dough on the board or bench top and gently pat the dough into a roll shape, using a little more flour if necessary. Be careful not to add too much flour – this will toughen the gnocchi.

Cut the roll into 6 pieces, and then shape each piece into smaller rolls. Cut each roll into slices using a sharp knife. Press down on the one of the cut sides of the gnocchi with the flat side of a fork.



At this point, you can freeze if desired, or store in the fridge. I recommend putting the gnocchi you want to eat in the fridge for 20 minutes just to firm up a bit, to make sure they stay intact in the pot when you cook them.

Put a large saucepan of water onto the stove top and bring to the boil. Carefully drop the gnocchi into the water once it’s boiled, one at a time, working quickly. Cook for 1 minute or so, or until the gnocchi rise to the surface. Have a strainer or colander handy, and put the gnocchi into the strainer or colander once cooked. (Have the straining utensil over the saucepan so you are not dripping water everywhere!)

Leave the gnocchi  in the straining utensil, while you make the sauce. Melt 1.5 tablespoons of the butter in a large frying pan until it is foaming. Add the gnocchi and fry until they are turning brown. Add the rest of the butter, throw in the walnuts and sage leaves and cook until the leaves are just crispy. The butter will have turned brown by now, but make sure not to burn it.

Serve the gnocchi, sage leaves (saving a few for decoration) and walnuts, in a big bowl, making sure to pour the lovely buttery sauce over the gnocchi. Scatter some finely grated parmesan or pecorino over the gnocchi and scatter the reserved sage leaves over the dish at the end. A sprig of fresh sage is nice too!

Beef Casserole: Isolationist Cooking in the Covid 19 Era

We are living in strange times, in the era of Covid 19. Like a lot of people, I am spending time at home, socially isolating to avoid unnecessary contact with people. I am shopping carefully, stocking up on staples, without going overboard, and thinking about what dishes I can cook with what’s in the freezer and pantry, and don’t require last minute shopping.

I will post a few of these recipes over the next few weeks. To start with, here’s a recipe for a beautiful beef and red wine casserole. I recommend buying some good slow cooking beef cuts and freezing for just this kind of recipe. The other ingredients that are not pantry staples are carrots and onions, and thankfully these can be acquired and then will last quite a long time, ie you can buy and keep on hand for a couple of weeks until you need them.

I began to write this recipe at the end of a Sydney summer, but it soon became apparent it would be a great start to my “isolationist cooking”.

It’s late March 2020 in Sydney. Just a month ago we were sweltering in a hot, hot bushfire summer with humid days and even stickier nights, when the temperature overnight barely dropped a degree or two, making sleeping and living difficult.

But the rain came and the cooler weather with it. Autumn is definitely in the air. While we will have plenty of warm days to come, there is enough cool weather to make me feel like starting some autumn cooking: cakes and tarts with autumn fruits, and nourishing, robust casseroles, rich with root vegetables and red wine.

This is a simple beef casserole recipe that I developed from the memory of many family meals and my own efforts at throwing a few things in a pot and coming up with something tasty!

Beef + onions + carrots + red wine + herbs = a pot of deliciousness.

Here’s the basic recipe. For the beef, any cheap cut of beef is great. My preference is for shin (gravy) beef, but that cut is hard to get in Australia. Chuck steak is good, as well as blade beef.


Ingredients

1 tablespoon plain flour
Sea salt and ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
500g casserole beef cut into small pieces
4 shallots or 1 large onion, chopped
4 -6 baby or small carrots, cut into chunks or keep whole if small enough
1 tin whole peeled tomatoes
1 glass red wine
1 teaspoon vegemite or marmite dissolved in 1/2 cup boiling water
Bouquet garnis – bay leaf, a few sprigs of thyme and rosemary, tied together
A pinch of sugar to season

Method
Pre-heat oven to 140 degrees C.

Dust the beef pieces in the flour and salt and pepper by placing them in a zip lock bag and shake. Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed casserole on the stove top.

Fry the beef in small quantities to avoid “stewing” the meat, until brown on all sides. Remove the beef to a plate, add a little more oil to the pan if necessary, and fry the shallots and carrots.

Return the meat to the casserole. Add the tomatoes, roughly chopping as you mix in to the casserole. Add the red wine and vegemite/marmite and water and the pinch of sugar.

Cook on a medium heat with lid off for 5 minutes, then transfer the casserole, with lid on, to the pre-heated oven. Cook for about 3 hours or until beef is very tender. I check after 2 hours and test the ”doneness” of the beef. It is usually a little chewy and needs further cooking. If the beef is cooked to your liking, by all means serve now.

If there is lot of liquid in the stew, now is the time to leave the lid off and return to the oven.

Remove from the oven when finally cooked, and serve. Or the casserole can be refrigerated or frozen until you are ready to use.

I like to serve the beef casserole with rice or couscous or some potatoes baked in their jackets.

A really tasty recipe that not only is easy to make from the pantry and freezer but it’s a lovely way to spend time in these isolationist times.

Apple and Almond Orchard Cake

 


I made a cake last week for a communal dinner – First Friday Feast – where the theme was “from the ground up”. Lots of ideas sprang to mind, and I eventually settled on the orchard theme, apples and almonds that grow in the orchard, and are obviously above the ground. The orchard theme is particularly appropriate as Sydney finally heads into autumn after a sweltering summer.

The recipe is a version of Diana Henry’s Swedish Apple, Almond and Cardamom Cake from her column in the UK Telegraph, see here for the original recipe.

I substituted cinnamon and a little ginger for the cardamom as I’m not a huge cardamom fan. I currently have some lovely fragrant cinnamon from Vietnam, which I love using in bakes.

Here’s the recipe. I served the cake with some lovely glacé fruit, orange slices and apricots and fresh herbs. I also made my own version of muscatels by slow roasting some black grapes in a very low oven. Possibly not worth the time, when muscatels are so readily available, but they certainly had a lovely caramelised flavour.

Ingredients

150g butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing

175g light brown sugar

50g marzipan, broken into little chunks

3 large free range eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten

½ teaspoon almond extract

4 Granny Smith apples

175g plain flour

2 teaspoon baking powder

75g ground almonds

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

2 tablespoons milk, if needed

2 tablespoons sugar

4 tablespoons apricot jam, to glaze

Method

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C. Butter and line the base of 
a 23cm springform cake tin.

Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and brown sugar together until pale and fluffy, then beat in the pieces of marzipan – the marzipan will break down and become amalgamated. Add the eggs a little at a time, beating well after each addition, then add the almond extract.

Peel, core and chop two of the apples Into small pieces and stir them into the mixture.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and a pinch of salt, and add the ground almonds, cinnamon  and ginger. Gently fold this mixture into the batter, adding it in three lots. If the mixture is really stiff,  add the milk.

Peel the other apples, halve, core and cut them into thin wedges. Toss the wedges with the sugar.

Spoon the batter into the springform tin and arrange the apple wedges on top in concentric circles. Be neat, but no need to be too fussy!

Bake the cake for 40-50 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Cover the top with aluminium foil if it looks like it’s browning too quickly.

Cool the cake for about 
15 minutes, then remove the outer ring. By sliding a knife between the cake and the base, carefully move the cake from the base. Quickly invert the cake and peel off the baking paper, and invert again. Carefully put the cake right side up on to a plate and leave to cool completely.

To glaze cake, put the apricot jam in a small saucepan with 1 tablespoon of water and heat until the jam is liquid. You will need to sieve the jam to make sure it’s smooth. Using a pastry brush, brush the jam over the top of the cake.

Serve with glacé fruit or fresh fruit or even some bunches of green herbs. Cake is always good with whipped cream or ice cream!

Sweet Grape Focaccia



Recently I held another bread making workshop for friends. I really enjoy passing on the knowledge I have gained about creating beautiful bread from scratch, all from my own hands on experience and trial and error baking.

We talked a lot about sourdough, as I am a self confessed sourdough nut! My friends who are scientists, were really impressed when I showed them the wonderful growth that happens when you feed a sourdough starter!

However, I was keen to show my friends how easy it is to make bread using commercial dried yeast. So we made two breads, a simple free form shaped loaf and a sweet grape focaccia, both made with the same dough.

Here is the recipe for the grape focaccia. It’s a really easy, quick bread. It’s not traditional, but a simple adaptation of a bread recipe that you can knock out in a short time, if you’re looking for a sweet bread fix!

Ingredients 

425g strong white flour

10g table salt

7g sachet fast-action dried yeast

325ml tepid water

2-3 tablespoons brown sugar

Enough black grapes to cover the focaccia

Optional – a few sprigs of lemon thyme

Olive oil

Method

Place the flour in a large bowl. Add in the salt at one edge of the bowl and the yeast on the other side. This is because the salt can stop the yeast from working.

Add the tepid water and mix together to form a dough, using your dough to mop up any flour sticking to the bowl. Now knead the dough for a minimum of 5 minutes up to 10 minutes. You can knead the dough in the bowl, stretching and folding the dough. An easy way to do this is to gently grab a section of the dough, stretch it and fold back over the remainder of the dough in the bowl.

Turn the bowl 90 degrees and repeat. Keep this up until the dough is noticeably smooth. A good way to see if the dough is well kneaded is to do the window pane test. Gently pull a little section of the dough with both hands and the dough should stretch without breaking and be translucent.

Cover the dough and rest for 45 minutes to one hour until the dough has doubled in size. My favourite way to cover the dough is with a plastic shower cap, but a tea towel will do as well.

Take the dough out of the bowl and move on to a floured surface. Now for the shaping of the focaccia. Flour your hands and shape the dough into a rough rectangle, pulling it into shape.

Lightly oil a baking tray. Place the shaped rectangular dough onto the oiled tray. Loosely cover, this time with a large tea towel, and leave to prove for an hour, or until it has doubled in size and springs back when pushed.

During this hour prove, preheat the oven to 200 degrees C fan forced, at least 20 minutes before baking.

Remove the tea towel from the proved dough. To make the recognisable focaccia dimples, gently press your fingers all over the dough.

Scatter the brown sugar over the dough. How much you scatter is up to you, but you need at least 2 tablespoons. Remember there is no sugar in the bread dough. Put the grapes over the dough, again using as many as you like. At this point, you can scatter a few sprigs of lemon thyme over the focaccia. The lemon thyme adds a lovely piquant flavour. Dribble a little olive over the focaccia dough.

Place the focaccia into the oven on a low or middle shelf for 35-40 minutes. The focaccia should be a deep brown and the grapes dark and oozing juice.

Serve warm on its own, or with cream or ice cream. I like to serve slices of the focaccia smeared with sour cream.

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